The Obama administration has taken a page from Vladimir Lenin’s play book. “Law,” the Communist leader once said, “is a political measure. It is politics.”
The founder of the Soviet Union, a lawyer by training, strongly believed the ends justified the means. The same can be said of the US Justice Department’s legal reasoning, relied upon by the White House, in using drones -- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- to kill Americans overseas suspected of terrorism.
According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at Tuesday’s press briefing, “These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise.” Legal, ethical and wise is an interesting combination of words. Obviously, “just” and “justice” were not included.
Laws exist for a variety of reasons. Often they protect people from one another. Permitting mob or vigilante justice, for example, does not lend itself to a stable economy. Governments use laws to control and regulate liberties.
They are tools drafted by men and women with egos, agendas and strong opinions. Broadly written laws are subject to multiple interpretations, or loopholes, to do what someone believes is necessary for a required outcome. Hence, because any president may have the shield of law doesn’t give him a free pass, especially when concerns about due process have not been adequately discussed.
Ethics are more esoteric. They can be elusive, theoretical and philosophical. Ethics have been debated, discussed and written about for thousands of years. Today, they are dissected into numerous disciplines for use and study: sex, law, medical, Kantian, societal, humanist, naturalist, situational, normative, axiological, rationalistic, deontological and more.
They also can be about who we are as individuals and should strive to be collectively as a nation. It is being true to the best of our creation, individually and collectively, and not reacting to fear, hate, or threats in a manner that make us indifferent leading to the compromise of core values like truth, fairness and justice.
This is not to suggest the proactive or reactive use of force doesn’t have a place in self-defense or national security. It does. Force, however, must be used with a tempered solemnity, especially when done from the safety of a war room removed from harm or bloody realities of the outcome. The use of force by any leader is, or should be, a humbling, heavy burden every time a decision is made to exercise it.
No one has yet to directly ask Carney to define what the administration means when it argues the use of drones against Americans overseas is “ethical.”
Calling the current strategy “wise” is understated hubris and policy-righteousness disguised in the trappings of security and patriotism. It makes for good politics – the president, the country’s commander in chief is valiantly helping Americans sleep safely in their beds tonight.
The use of force requires oversight. Ultimately, this is less about force and more about the potential for abuse of power which has been justified throughout history with law, ethics and wisdom.
Paul Jesep is an attorney, Corporate Chaplain, and author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically.”